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Ushaw College

It is with great sadness that I received  the news that Ushaw College is to close this month.  The College has been in its present situation since 1808 and as such it very much a part of the history of the local area.  The main buildings were built in the 19th century and amongst the architects that designed them were the father and son named Pugin.  They were of national renown and designed many churches and buildings in the Victorian era.  The farm attached to the College must be unique in the fact that the buildings were designed my one of the Pugins.

When I was a boy the College was very well used and boys from the age of eleven years old went to be educated and train for the priesthood in the Catholic Church.  There was a junior seminary behind the high stone wall situated near the College farm and the adult students were educated in the area of the College nearest Bearpark.  On a Wedneday afternoon large groups of the younger boys could be seen walking through the village in their red blazers and grey trousers.

Many of the staff working at the College were from the local villages and it provided employment for many people.   My late eldest brother Jim , God Bless him, worked at the College for 12 years as a joiner until his retirement.  I went up a few times to see him at his lunch break and he showed me around and at one time the College was a self sufficient unit.  It produced its own gas before the arrival of electricity.  It had its own bakery, kitchens, tailors, swimming baths, cemetery, infirmary and a large maintenance staff, stonemasons, bricklayers, painters, joiners, etc.  The domestic staff were girls from Ireland and the local area.

The College has its own unique sporting game named “Cat”  I do not know the rules but there was an inter College League and the game was played on a grassed area at the top of the Drive leading up from the Gate nearest Bearpark.  There were sports fields on the other side of the road opposite the above mentioned gate and more sports fields in front of the Junior Seminary.

The best farmer to work for picking potatoes was Mr. George Dixon who worked the College farm.  One shilling an hour, picked up in the morning and dropped off at the end of the working day.  A free sack of potatoes delivered to the house plus a couple of turnips a few days after we went back to school.  It was back breaking work but you just got on with it.  The ride on the trailer to and from the fields would be frowned on today because of health and safety rules but it was a great laugh.  I remember Mr. Dixon as a gentleman farmer with a ruddy complexion and wearing plus fours and tweeds and a hat.  I also spent many happy hours watching the pigs and piglets in the stys at the side of the road at the front of the farm on Sunday afternoons.   No omnibus editions of Corra or Eastenders or even the telly.

There is an article in the Journal today about the College library and what will happen to its priceless contents.  There are over 44,000 books and manuscripts held in the library, many of the books and manuscripts being hundreds of years old.  A treasure trove like this should not be allowed to leave the area.

Also there was a nine hole golf course situated on the east side of the College grounds (nearest Bearpark) which was used by the students and staff at the College.  We would search for hours for golf balls and were always given a tanner for each ball found.  ( 2 1/2P)

I remember in 1951 there was a huge celebration at the Colllege to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the birth of the Northumbrian Saint Aidan.  Over 100,00 people attended the celebration in the College grounds which was also attended by Cardinal Griffin who was the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales at that time.  I had never seen as many people before and after tea we sat on the wall at the top of the bank above Whitehouse Court counting  the buses carrying the people and they  were from all over the North East and the North West of England.

I can also remember the night of the Coronation of the Queen in June 1953 when they lit the largest bonfire I have ever seen in the field opposite the West gate of the College.  It was huge and hundreds of local people attended to enjoy the spectacle.

It is time for a nice large whisky.  So good night to everyone who might read my article.

Brian Mc

Categories: Memories
  1. June 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Excellent article Brian. Thanks.

  2. Mitzi simpson
    August 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    What a wonderful post Brian.Good read.
    I remember once going “tattie picking” was hard work but had fun too.

  3. Whittington W Hughes ( A.K.A. Nobby)
    April 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I too have wonderful memories of the College Farm. I was Blessed to marry one of Mr. J.G .Dixon’s daughters – Teresa.(one of ten children, five girls & five boys) We met whilst serving in the RAF, she in the WAAF myself in the Medical services, Married in 1952 at St. Michaels, Esh Laude. Emigrated to Canada & have 6 wonderful children, 17 Grandchildren, 5 Great Grandchildren. Ushaw will always hold a very special place with our family. WWH

    • Olga Bradley nee Jones.
      April 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      Hey Nobby My uncle Cuthbert was a brother of one of the Dixons that had the College farm. I remember going there with My aunty Joy (who was married to Cuthbert) when I was a young girl. My uncle Cuthbert was the college butcher and they lived in the bungalow at the entrance to ushaw College. I spent many happy holidays there when I was younger. Uncle Cuthbert died a few years ago and aunty Joy went to live with their Daughter Wynn in Bristol.

  4. April 12, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Just a shame that this is happening.~~

  5. April 12, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I felt really glad when I read the comment from aka Nobby Hughes that my post had provided happy memories to a family in Canada with close connections to Ushaw College and the College farm.

    I can remember quite a few of the Dixon lads, one married Eileen Brown and another married Doris Bowery, both Ushaw Moor girls. I was more in the age group with Eddie and Joan Dixon, I last saw Joan many years ago in The Board Inn at Esh Top. This website provides news and memories to many people who are scattered far and wide and it would be great if more people would take the plunge and submit their thoughts and memories.

    Brian Mc.

  6. April 12, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Correction.. The Board Inn is at Hill Top not Esh Top.

    Brian Mc.

  7. April 13, 2013 at 1:48 am

    Interesting. I was about 8 9 or 10 years old and we were all getting off the school bus in Broompark. Our instructions were always to wait until the bus moved on before crossing the road. Kids being kids we always had a race across the road when the bus left.
    On this day i decided to break the rules and when i got off the bus i ran to the back of the bus and went behind the bus and looked left and saw no cars~ looked right and saw nothing so ran across the road. I recall some kids screaming -NO- and a loud noise to my left which froze me in my tracks and i turned to face head on with a huge Lorry / Truck.
    It was already almost on top of me and i remember seeing this big bumper lined up with my forehead and i think i was already falling backwards as it hit me fair and square in the middle of the forehead throwing me back on the road and everything went dark and all i could hear was the noise of the truck trying to pull up. Then it was light again and i got up and looked back at the truck as it was still trying to pull up some way down the road. I got up and ran like buggery as i knew i had done wrong but the lady from the loves hotel which i always knew as mrs love grabbed me and took me inside and settled me down and checked that i had no serious injurys. I ended up with a lump the size of a half a golf ball in the forehead and the same on the back of the head.
    It was the talk of the village and the schools that little Ronnie Nightingale was run over by a Dixon Lorry.
    In later years i always thought this must have been an earth works company but would be interested to know if these Dixon brothers owned trucks.

  8. April 13, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Doris Bowery (My Cousin) married John Dixon. I think their daughter Sonia has a pub in Cornsay.

  9. Mike Copple
    April 13, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Brian I also picked potatoes for Mr. Dixon and other farmers in the locality around the early 1950’s and recall Ushaw College well. My mother worked there before the war as a domestic before moving to Manchester where she met my father and where I was born in 1940. I spent the formative years living with my grandparents at Bearpark due to health issues, fog, etc. at Salford, and left St. Josephs school in 1955 and returned to Salford. Mr. Murray was our headmaster at the time, Sheila Purdom our class teacher. I recall that I was in the same class I think with you or your late brother Kevin. God rest him. Happy times with fond memories of the area.

    Mike Copple

  10. Patsy Hopkins
    January 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    You might be interested to know that plans are in place for Durham University to take over Ushaw College as the site of its Centre for Catholic Studies, which seems the very best outcome for this wonderful place. Lets hope it happens.
    I went there first in the early fifties to see Cardinal Heenan when he visited.

    • January 15, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Yes the future of the college does look a little more positive.

      • noodles29
        January 16, 2014 at 12:25 am

        Patsy, Great to see that the College is to be brought back to life. I was brought up in Ushaw Moor and it holds a special place in my heart. I was also at the College that day which was the 1300th anniversary of the death of Saint Aidan. Will look at Wilfs post when I learn to find my way around Windows 8 email page. Cannot seem to find my way back to the email page.

        Brian Mc.

        On 15 January 2014 21:47, Ushaw Moor Memories

  11. January 16, 2014 at 12:33 am

    I contradicted myself in that last entry.. The celebration in 1951 was the mark the 1300th anniversary of the birth of Saint Aidan. I rather enjoyed reading over my original entry.

    Brian Mc.

  12. Whittington W Hughes (Nobby)
    March 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I well remember St.Aidan’s 1300 anniversary @ the college, was staying at the Dixon farm on leave from the RAF. The ‘Mill Field’ was crowded with buses.If you happen to have the small book of the event you will find one of Teresa’s sister Joan standing on a ledge of the college. A most memorable occasion. Thank’s for the memory WWH. (Nobby)

  13. noodles29
    March 23, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    I am very glad to see that this post is still providing interest to people. I am reading a book named “The History of Ushaw” written by Father David Milburn and published in 1964. I think Father Milburn was a Professor of History at Ushaw. It is the history of the founding of the College after events on the Continent i.e.. The French Revolution forced the closure of the seminary at Douai and the evacuation of the English students back to England which resulted eventually to Ushaw being founded. I was fortunate to buy the book on eBay. Father Milburn is still alive and living at a presbytery in the Newcastle area.

    Brian Mc.

  14. Frances
    March 23, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    What a great entry- really interesting! Funnily enough I just met a Catholic lady whose ancestors came over from France as refugees with the Douai seminary (I think they worked there and later at Ushaw College when it was built). Can anyone else trace their family back to that migration? I always assumed that most Catholics locally had Irish ancestors who came over to work in the pits in the late 19th century (or later).

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